May 18, 2006

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Concord Publisher's Note: Aspell the man for the job
By Dan Szczesny

Recently, I was thinking about all the major development and economic projects, both short and long term, facing Concord, and I started feeling a bit sorry for Tom Aspell.

In the very near future, Concord’s new city manager will have to navigate through a number of watershed projects facing the state’s Capital that will define the city for generations to come. You’d think the pressure would be on.

But with Aspell, I doubt he’s feeling any pressure. City councilors made the right choice in picking him for the job, mainly becauseno outside manager could possibly be as familiar with Concord as Aspell. Since 2001, he’s worked as assistant city manager under Duncan Ballantyne, and when Ballantyne resigned last October, Aspell ran the office competently and with a fair degree of long -erm vision for Concord’s future.

In fact, Aspell has already spent time and effort guiding some crucial city projects like the Capital Commons development and working on land conservation issues.

Aspell started his development career 20 years ago as a Londonderry town planner, where he established many of the zoning regs and impact fee ordinances still used to mange that town. He managed the Manchester Airport growth into Londonderry, not entirely successfully as the town now receives very little from the airport’s massive growth, save car rental registration fees. But in fairness, who knew 20 years ago that the airport would become such a powerhouse?

Later, as Haverhill, Mass., director of planning and development he created a private-public partnership program for redeveloping old buildings, a skill that will now come in handy in Concord.

His time in Concord was mostly positive, and he has a reputation for being responsive and accessible, again good qualities to have for a city manager. He faced a bump in the road earlier this year when a group appointed by councilors was critical of excessive red tape and a leadership void in Aspell’s department. But he smoothed that over by hiring an associate engineer to deal exclusively with private development, and department staff now have to respond to all inquiries within one day.

Moving forward, Concord will need a city manager of unusual insight. The laundry list of challenges facing the city is long and complex.

Getting Capital Commons right, for example, is going to be about more than getting the building up. Aspell will have to oversee the consequences of having a movie theater downtown and the excess traffic and economic influx that will bring.

But there are more basic issues as well: getting the upper floors of downtown buildings filled, moving the city’s long-delayed master plan along quickly and efficiently, making sure residential development growth happens appropriately, studying the relationship between the growing state government and the city and assuring that Concord is not taken advantage of, and streamlining the code and permit system to keep Concord business friendly.

Aspell is the right choice, but it won’t be easy. But hopefully, a guy whose been around as much as Aspell knows how to handle the pressure.


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